Short and sweet. I thought it was a funny project. Could have been much longer, but like I said, I'm trying to stay away from chapter fics. This is for, as always, Cheryl, who supplies me with Naruto djs and the fanaticism which I adore in anime/manga fans.

Anyone else want to do some fractured Naruto fairy tales? Eh? I'll admit I'm a sucker for them. And SasuSaku anything is cute as all heck.

Ahh, this was a fun break. Now back to my regularly scheduled GaaSaku. (Oh please don't kill me, we all have out weird ships.) Speaking of weird, this fic just got out of control somehow. Pretty odd, maybe, but I had fun and I thought I'd share it will all ya'll.

Enjoy teh crack!

Disclaimer: Naruto be not mine! And neither is a beta reader, so be kind!

Fractured Fairy Tale: Cindersasuke

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there lived a moody young man who lived in an old set of houses on a small estate. This young man was as beautiful, er, I mean handsome as could be with raven hair and eyes and fair skin. While the young man was peerless in the village for looks, his disposition was as sour as milk left out in the summer sun. Some of this was due to the fact that after his father had died a decade past, his mother had remarried and secured him two loud and noisy step-brothers, but it was also because the young man had taken on a mission in his heart.

The young man's father had been a good man, a man who kept the peace in the village, and his death was shrouded in mystery. The beauti. . . .er, handsome young man was convinced that not only had his father been murdered but that he knew who was responsible. Itachi, his older brother and head of security for the wise but very old king whose castle overlooked the village, was the prime suspect. Only the young man felt he knew the truth, but his brother was too strong and too well protected for him to do anything so he trained and waited for the day in which he could avenge his father's death.

Despite his mother's worry, he forced himself into a strict regimen. He refused the soft life of nobility that his birth offered him and instead chose to live like a servant below stairs, sleeping by the fire, and rising early to do any chore that could improve strength or concentration. Although worried for him, his mother did not stop him, and he lived like this for many years. . . .

"I'll kill you!"

"Ha! Just try it, you're too weak to even begin to think you could possibly take me on!"

"Oh yeah!"


The sounds of struggle, and the ensuing cloud of dust were what brought Sasuke to the familiar scene. He wouldn't stop them usually, but they were slowly drifting in the direction of the chicken coop, and he had fixed it once already this month after their fighting had demolished it to its brick foundation.



"Stop it!"

"You stop it!"

Sasuke waited until the last minute, letting his step-brothers exhaust their energy before he stepped in. It wasn't like he was afraid of getting hurt, although a wild punch or kick had caught him unaware before. A bored expression on his face, he jumped in to the fight. Surprisingly, it was more vicious than usual, and he was swept along in the struggling mass squarely into the thing he had been trying to protect. The chicken coop swayed with a dangerous creak and chickens vacated with squacks of terror like feathered rats from a sinking ship. The structure groaned ominously and then collapsed over the three fighting boys, finally ending the fight.

Irritated that he would have to go buy lumber again, not to mention spend the rest of his precious day nailing together another chicken coop, Sasuke snapped at the two boys who were bruised and panting in the rubble.

"Naruto! Kiba! You're both idiots!" He hated his step-brothers in that benign way you hated a natural disaster, like a tornado. It was loud, it was messy, it destroyed things without thinking, and it was entirely unpredictable.

"Geez, Sasuke, they're just chickens." Naruto picked a feather out of his hair and looked at it a minute before agilely pulling himself up.

"Yeah, whatever, s'not like they have feelings or whatever. So we won't have eggs for a few days, big deal." As usual Kiba was feeling like the more obnoxious one, and he tossed a broken board piece at Sasuke, who caught it easily.

He narrowed his eyes at the two of them and waited with arms crossed for them to leave so that he could get to work.

"Oh, yeah, mom said you should join us for dinner. We were coming to ask you, like usual before, um, this. . ." Naruto had the grace to look a little bit remorseful. The cheesy grin he flashed only made Sasuke feel more disgruntled, as did the reference to his mother, Naruto's stepmother, as 'mom'. "But I suppose you're just going to eat while doing your training out in the yard like usual. . ."

"Would it kill you to eat with us? Stuck up prick. . ." Kiba mumbled to himself, aching from various places that had been bruised by Naruto and the crash. "Hey, Akamaru!" He lost focus as he called his dog over to pet him. The mutt happily ran circles around the boys.

Sasuke huffed and walked off, not interested in what they were offering even when he was in the best of moods. As he calculated how much money it would be to fix the coop, he heard Kiba and Naruto talk quietly, and then with increasing volume. Obviously, the source of their fight was not random aggression, like usual, but some specific topic. It wasn't like he was interested, or truly listening in, but they were yelling at one another again and it was hard not to hear them. The neighbors three miles over could probably hear them.

"Oh yeah, well tomorrow night I bet I'll get Princess Hinata to dance with me. Hell, I'll bet I'll get her to marry me!" Kiba was probably getting as red in the face from yelling as those tattoos on his cheeks.

"Ha! Like she'd ever want a loser like you!" Competition between the siblings was fierce, and Naruto lived for antagonizing his fraternal twin.

While the sounds of their argument faded, Sasuke thought absently to himself that there was nothing to argue about. There were two princesses in the castle, and they could each have one. One princess was just like the next one, after all.

Sakura obscured herself behind a fern. It was a last minute decision, more grounded in the need to hide quickly rather than a well thought out plan, but then following around Orochimaru had been a last minute decision on the whole. He was the king's advisor, and therefore automatically mistrusted anyway, but she got such bad vibes from him that she felt it was her duty to discover what exactly he was hiding. Someday she would find out and then have him thrown out of the kingdom, or better yet killed. Inside of her head a bloodthirsty voice laughed in glee.

"Heh heh heAHHHH!" A hand on her shoulder made her spin around quickly, in more than a little shock. Slightly off guard, she flailed out with a fist which was promptly caught before it reached the cheek of the person who had startled her.

"Pardon, your highness, but is something the matter?" The calm voice of Itachi, head of security, greeted her ears like an icy breeze through her mind. Unlike Orochimaru, she didn't hate Itachi, she just feared him. He was handsome, unsettling, and entirely too self possessed. Sakura wished she knew why she didn't trust him, after all Hinata had pointed out last night that she was always doing crazy and unreasonable things. There wasn't any need to assume a hunch was the total truth of the matter.

Faced with the Uchiha in front of her, Sakura tried to find her voice. The bravado and determination of earlier had faded back deep into her mind and she put on the meek personality that she always slid into around handsome men, or imposing enemies. "I was just admiring the fronds of this, er, fern. Yes. And now I'm done so I think I'll be on my way. . ."

His disturbing dark eyes followed her progress down the hall, as she tried to move slowly and demurely. As soon as she was out of sight she picked up her skirts and made a dash for another hallway that could take her in the direction she thought she had seen Orochimaru go. What an idiot she was to think she could hide behind a fern! Pink hair and green fronds didn't exactly blend. She needed a better plan.



Knocked on her butt, Sakura raised a fist and would have started to demand an apology as well as the right to do immediate personal violence unto the source of her fall when the other person began to wail in a familiar voice.

"So mean! I'm telling!" Konohamaru. Of course it would be her little brother. That brat was everywhere, hiding poorly and trying to improve his ninja skills.

"Shh! Shh! Stop it, it was an accident!" Sakura helped up the six year old crown prince, and put on a sisterly sort of expression: a cross between love and annoyance. "Let's get that skinned knee bandaged up. Don't be such a little kid. A prince doesn't cry over a little bit of blood." She was bad at this. Hinata was so much better at being motherly. It looked like her plans of discovering Orochimaru's secrets would have to be delayed for yet another day.

Through long corridors filled with plants and doors, but conspicuously absent of guards, Sakura led Konohamaru until they were back to their family rooms. Hinata saw them enter, and noted the tears drying on Konohamaru's cheeks with concern. She put down her book and wandered over, pale eyes wide.

"Did something. . . happen?"

Sakura quickly answered before Konohamaru could turn it into something more than it was. "We just ran into one another, literally. I was in a rush and I didn't see him. . ."

Hinata took Konohamaru off to tend to his bruised sensibilities and Sakura wandered back to her own room to brood. It was a nice day out, light and airy, and the view from her room was spectacular, but it didn't bring her much joy at the moment. Her father, King Sarutobi, was probably in trouble but she couldn't seem to convince him of it. Orochimaru, with his fawning ways and simpering laugh, made her skin crawl. She knew he was up to something. Whenever he wasn't attending to his duties he was going down to the palace cellars. She knew that much, but she hadn't been able to follow him successfully enough yet to have more information than that.

Then there was Itachi Uchiha. He was the head of security and he she had a feeling that he knew just how dangerous Orochimaru was. Stuck between two vipers, she had a feeling her father was only safe because they were eyeing one another so carefully that they couldn't find time to strike at her father's exposed throat. How did they get so close?

Orochimaru was an easy one to identify. He had talent, and he was good at sucking up to people. Somehow he had slithered his way into a minister position. While Uchiha, on the other hand, had taken over the security post from his father, the Duke, on the man's death. It was a suspicious death, but who was going to say anything when his son had been so willing to search out and try to solve the murder? It remained unsolved, and no one thought much about it anymore, except for Sakura who had noted that there seemed to be a terrible shortage of guards these days. What was the head of security thinking?

"AUGH!" She clutched at her head and fell down backwards onto her bed, tangled in her skirts. How she wished someone would just come along and help her solve her problems. They were driving her out of her mind, particularly when she had not only her father but a sister and a little brother to worry about. It was all up to her to make sure they were safe; they were the most precious people in her life.

The door opened with an audible creak. Sakura had made sure, the first time she had gotten an inkling of how many suspicious people filled the palace, that she could hear any intruder who came through the door. That creak had saved her life once, during a particularly inept assassination attempt. They weren't a family of ninjas for nothing.

"S-Sakura? Are you asleep?" Hinata. Only a year older and yet infinitely more timid. Being the little sister afforded Sakura a lot of leeway to do what she wanted. She had been the baby in family until just a few years ago, and there were lingering effects of her self indulgent behaviors. Hinata had always been the one who had to be official, proper, well bred, and sometimes Sakura thought that she might have been like that even if she hadn't had a veritable army of tutors molding her.

"No, Hinata, come in."

The door creaked and latched closed. Hinata sat down at the edge of the bed. "You know, um, that there's a ball tomorrow, right?"

"Yes, Hinata."

"And so, I guess, you know that father expects us to find husbands from the men invited. . . right?"

This had not escaped her, no. "Yes, I know, Hinata."

Her sister tapped her fingers together at the tips in the nervous gesture that she only practiced in private among the family. "Well. . . what if we can't find someone nice? What if father is forced to pick someone for us? I-I don't want to marry a stranger."

Sakura, who had been brushing back her apprehension with anger, felt a rush of sympathy. They were both of age, and if they didn't choose someone, then someone would be chosen for them. It had been an ultimatum that Sakura was pretty sure Orochimaru was behind because their kindly father had never been of the mind that he should be so autocratic with his beloved daughters, especially now that Konohamaru, his heir, was there to take the throne when he died. Sakura just saw this as another attempt to get her and her sister out of the picture. Konohamaru would be the most vulnerable if they were gone. If father died, then Konohamaru would need a regent, and who would be the best regent but. . . . the head advisor or the head of security. What a mess.

"I don't want to marry a stranger either, Hinata. But I'm sure out of the hundreds of eligible men out there you'll find at least one who you like. Maybe more. You never know, right?" Sakura tried to remain positive for her sister, even though she was sure that she'd never find someone for herself. Who wanted the emotionally unpredictable, pink haired, small chested little sister of the beautiful, demure princess Hinata? Her choice would be dependent on who could provide her and her family the best protection, should something happen to her father. That was all that was on her mind.

"Thanks for making me feel better. I don't know how you do it. . . stay so strong. You're. . . just like our father." Sakura winced a little, but she knew Hinata had meant it as a compliment. Their father was a fighter at heart, just like Sakura, even if he was much older now.

"You're welcome Hinata. Everything will work out for the best tomorrow, I know it will."

Sasuke took a nail from his mouth, where he was carrying them, and jammed another board onto the slowly forming roof of the chicken coop. Clucking from below every so often greeted his ears, but it was better than the squawking from Naruto and Kiba which had assailed him not ten minutes before. They had tried once more, along with his mother, to try to get him to come to the ball at the palace. He was the son of a Duke, and an Earl in his own right, so why wouldn't he act like one? They didn't seem to understand that titles meant nothing to him, while family obligation did. He had an obligation to his father and his father's lands. So he would take care of the estate and train for the day he could be strong enough to take on his older brother, and that was that. The group of them had given up and moved on, leaving him behind with the livestock and his own sense of self-righteousness.

Angrily he continued to pound at the coop. How could they ask him to come to the palace so lightly, when that's where his brother was? It made him so mad just thinking about it that he couldn't keep a firm grip on the hammer. On the upswing it flew from his sweaty palm and into the growing evening darkness. Sasuke swore colorfully and began to get ready to go down and look for it, when the handle materialized in front of his face.

"Here you go, kid."

With shock, he tried to keep his balance as he looked into the face of a beautiful blond woman who was floating about a foot away from him and at least seven feet off the ground.

"Who are you?" Shock gave way to his customary rudeness.

"I'm your fairy, uh, aunt." She looked around with a sigh. "I just had the lose the coin toss. Someday I'll win at that. . ."

"Aren't they usually fairy godmothers?" He arched an eyebrow, not really believing her words, but still willing to criticize them.

"Do I look old enough to be your godmother?" He knew by the dangerous tone that he probably shouldn't answer that. "Damn straight. Fairy aunt. Don't ask stupid questions or I'll just turn you into a slug and drop you in with those chickens."

Sasuke grumped a bit. "Well, if you're my fairy aunt, then what do you want?"

"Gets right to the point. You're no fun at all. Jiraiya told me this was a bum job, but no, I had to go and bet. . ." The woman stepped lightly onto the half repaired roof and began to glow. "I am Tsunade, and I am here to grant you your fondest desire for one night. I am going to grant you the power to take down your murderous brother. You're old enough, you've trained enough, and this should just be the little extra push you needed, so to speak."

There was a pause as she looked at him.

"Well, get on with it then." Sasuke said.

"Geez, not even a word of gratitude. You're a tough case." Tsunade undid her coat and Sasuke saw that tied to her waist was a sake bottle. "Now open up those pretty eyes of yours kid." She flicked some sake in them from the tips of her fingers and it burned Sasuke's eyes like nothing he had experienced before. He grunted and nearly fell off the coop while Tsunade clucked her tongue.

Sasuke turned sharingan eyes on his fairy aunt. "That hurt! You could have warned me." He growled.

"And you could have been a little more polite. That'll teach you to be rude to higher powers. Now close your eyes." He hesitated. "Trust me, this time nothing will hurt." There was a wet sensation, followed by warmth, and he knew she had flicked some sake onto his body. When the warmth receded he noticed that his clothes had been transformed. A grey vest covered his upper body, and black underclothes conformed to the rest of it. Weapons clinked at his side and pressed against his back. A mask matted down the hair on his head.

"How long does this last?" He examined the quality of the weapons, and found them to be excellent.

"You have until midnight. The weapons and everything, as well as the minor regenerative nature of the sake on your skin, it all goes." With a smile, she took a swig from the bottle and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "The sharingan is something inside of you. I just helped coax it out a little early. Now off you go."

Sasuke leapt from the roof, infusing his leaps with chakra to take him further and faster. He felt exhilarated, skin tingling. Tonight was the night he would kill his brother.

Sakura felt absolutely ill. Tonight was the night she had to choose a husband. It wasn't that the choices within her generation were bad, because they weren't, but she felt as if leaving would equate to a death sentence for her father and eventually for her brother as well at the hands of Orochimaru and/or Itachi.

Quickly Sakura glanced over at her sister, who was blushing and stuttering in front of two noisy boys who spent equal amounts of time yelling at one another and trying to impress her. She looked happy, for her, and Sakura knew that there was nothing to fear for her sister's future, other than a possible migraine.

There were many fine men wandering about, mingling and discussing trivialities with one another. She felt like she was in some sort of display case. No one was talking to her, no one had tried to all night except for the formal introductions at the beginning where they all had to come and greet her. That didn't count. Sakura wandered over to a small group of men and barged through. At the center lay her friend Ino, who always knew how to get the attention of the boys and the admiration of the girls. With a somewhat scary smile that she hid faux-bashfully behind her fan, she extracted Ino and hooked their arms together to walk around the large ballroom.

"This better be good," Ino hissed at her. "Some of those guys were really cute, and who knows when there will be another big ball."

"I need help." Sakura said, swallowing her pride this once. "Help me find a husband. I may have memorized the statistics on every man in this room, but I know nothing about their personalities. You're the gossip queen, between the two of us I know I can find someone."

Ino lit up. Matchmaking was a source of never ending fun for the bored Lady. "What about him? He's been making googly eyes at you since he saw you." She pointed out a funny looking man in a bowl cut with the most horrifying eyebrows Sakura had ever had the displeasure to witness.

"Lee? No thanks. The Green Beast is rich in land but not much else. No military strength or money to hire any. Not what I'm looking for." Not even if he were better looking, her mental voice added with a snicker.

"What about Neji? He cold, I know, but solid and well connected."

Sakura thought a moment. "Wouldn't work. Besides the fact that I'm basically his cousin, we share so much blood—my mother was a Hyuuga, remember—there's the whole Tenten thing. I think they got engaged a couple days ago. It's not officially announced yet. Otherwise he would have been a fine choice." Very fine. That voice just refused to shut up. She swatted at it mentally.

Ino tapped her fan against the tip of her nose. "Ooh, I know. That Gaara person has been watching you all evening too, I think. Such an intense stare. . . brrrrr he gives me the creeps. And I hear he's mentally unbalanced. Just like you, forehead girl." Sakura pinched Ino's arm quickly at the insult.

"Now there's an idea. . ." Her eyes lit up but then dimmed quickly after. "It would be good except that he's foreign. I need someone inside the kingdom. If something happened then I don't want to be so far away. . ."

"Neither Shikamaru or Chouji would suit you I think. . ." She was notoriously selfish about her two favorites, even now. "Oooh. How about him? He's pretty nice. I don't remember that one. Maybe he's foreign too."

She felt her blood go cold in her veins. "I had forgotten he was a Duke in his own right. That's Itachi Uchiha."

"There you go, can't get much closer to home than that." Ino saw how Sakura had gone stiff with fear. "What's wrong with you? Your big brain can't come up with a good reason to refuse him?" When Sakura didn't rise to the oblique reference to her large head, Ino just shrugged and abandoned her friend to flutter back over to her admirers.

What about Itachi? She asked herself.

No, no. Absolutely not. Never. It's suicide! The inner voice was adamant.

"At least then I could keep an eye on him. . . a close eye. . ." She said under her breath before gliding over to make conversation.

Sasuke hated this stupid castle. Why was it so big? Why did it have to be so well lit? And where the hell could that brother of his be? The whirling red eyes behind the mask scanned breezeways before he moved on in his search. It felt like this was taking forever. There were only two hours he had to find his brother, kill him, and get back for a light dinner before he slept. He pushed up the mask and hung his head to catch his breath. Running on top of the roof wasn't difficult, but concentrating on not being seen and not making noise while doing it was an interesting exercise in control.

Something the shocking pink of bubble gum moved at the edge of his vision. He looked over and saw her, leaning back against the edge of the balcony, talking to someone. The way her face looked drawn and her eyes darted about, she seemed nervous. No one else could be seen on the balcony with her, but there was someone there, just out of sight. Sasuke took his time looking at the girl, pulling his mask back down and slowly moving forward.

Other than that odd hair of hers, there wasn't anything that should have been particularly unusual to captivate him so. She had a delicate bone structure, slim build, pale skin, and a strong voice that was becoming clearer as he got closer. He had thought he had been pretty sneaky, but something must have alerted her to his presence because she suddenly looked up, right into his wheeling eyes, and gasped, bringing a hand quickly to her throat.

Confronted with the greenest, clearest eyes he had ever seen, in a face so sincere and innocently lovely, he wasn't sure what to do.

So Sasuke fell off the roof.

To say love had struck him was not quite right. It was more like love pushed him. . . into some particularly prickly rose bushes. He noted absently, they were the same color as her hair as he extracted himself and ran to hide. Sasuke looked back, saw her with her mouth wide open, hands up near her face, as if she were trying to scream after him, but she wasn't making any noise. The hands wrapped around her throat were seeing to that.

It wasn't his business that she was being attacked. He had a mission.

But what were a few minutes? He could save the girl and still find and kill his brother. Sasuke moved back over the lawn like lightening, and launched himself up to the balcony, to confront the twisted smiling face of. . . Itachi!

It couldn't be. Itachi didn't smile. Sasuke knew this had to be an imposter, but the situation suddenly became more interesting in general. The man, upon noting Sasuke's presence snarled and lashed out with a leg, but his hands were busy and Sasuke had the advantage. The blade came down but only managed to distract the man enough for the girl to break free herself, gasping for air and edging away from her attacker.

"So you hired a bodyguard without me knowing? Clever girl. Too clever for your own good. I'll deal with this and finish you off."

Sasuke knew for a fact Itachi never talked this much. Whoever had taken his form was making a grave mistake, because even if Sasuke didn't kill him then Itachi would for the presumption. The man began to make hand seals, his tongue lolling out and a grotesque grin spreading over his face.

The vines that rose out of the ground to trap Sasuke weren't that difficult to evade, but the needles that popped out of their blooms at the tips were a different story. This was getting annoying. If this fight was going to take as long as he thought it would, then he wouldn't have time to find and kill Itachi. Saving the girl was a mistake, and yet he couldn't find a trace of regret under his anger at the delay. She looked at him, unsure of what to do.

A needle grazed his skin while he was watching the girl, having been caught by her unusual eyes again, and the burning sensation told him that paralysis would not be far behind. The man cackled again, seeing blood drawn, and his neck elongated along with his canine teeth.

"I could use another test subject. . . I was running out of guards. . ." His face rushed at Sasuke, teeth aimed for his throat, and he knew there would be no time to dodge. Closing his eyes, he prayed for the strength to come back from the dead to avenge his father.

But the teeth never landed. The quivering head was inches from his face and around the neck of the squirming monster/man was the girl's hand. "You saved my life," she said. "I can handle him now that I'm on my guard. You do what you came to do, with my thanks." She leaned down and kissed the cheek of his mask. He blushed beneath it, glad for the covering.

Sasuke took his leave, absently wondering if he would see the pink haired girl again. She said something to the man, who cackled faintly in the distance. But their fight did not matter to him, only his brother.

Sakura darted her eyes down to the balcony door, just a few feet away and saw something that made her smile. There was hope yet, even with the stranger gone.

"So, Orochimaru, you can't come from behind this time like the sneaky traitor you are. Fight me fairly." Sakura said with more confidence than she felt, feeling her throat burn as she spoke. She had been well trained, but she didn't know if she had the strength to take on this old snake yet.

"You sent your bodyguard away? What a confident young woman you are. . . I should have gotten rid of you sooner." He stroked his throat where the marks of her strong grasp had left bruises. An eye for an eye it seemed. "I'm too strong for you girl."

Sakura had been backing up, slowly, so that she could unlatch the balcony door. "But I know something that you don't, and that makes all the difference. Knowledge is power, they say."

"What's that?" He undid the band that had kept his long black hair, so like Itachi's, neatly behind him.

"Ino always liked sitting with her back to windows at parties. It keeps her cool, for one thing." The latch clicked as she pulled on it. "And for another, she likes to spy on the people who go out onto the balcony for privacy. She's a horrible gossip." Sakura pulled the door open, where Ino had been waiting with her special jutsu all set up. Confused young men were ringed around her and they caught her body as she went limp.

Orochimaru's cocky expression turned to one of shock, and then disgust. He began to inspect his nails and then abandoned that to stick out his tongue at Sakura.

"You owe me big time, forehead girl." Ino said in his body.

Sakura blew out a sigh of relief and called over some of the men to restrain the traitor. With any luck she'd have him executed before midnight. The night was looking up.

It didn't take too long to find Itachi, oddly, after he left the girl's side. The poison which had been seeping through his system had halted after a minute or two and begun to recede, while a strong smell of sake exuded from him for a while. That fairy aunt of his had played him true enough. There was still time. He could do it.

Where Itachi had been all this time was in the training field. Simply standing there. He could feel the pressure of his brother's chakra immediately upon setting foot in the field. Sharingan eyes like his own clashed with one another.

"So you have come, little brother." Itachi said, discarding the cloak he had been wearing, and drawing his sword.

"I'll kill you tonight."

Itachi simply nodded.

And they began.

There had been commotion after Sakura had shown the evidence around her throat and explained things to her father. Shino, second in command of the palace security, took custody of the prisoner as Itachi was conspicuously absent. Sarutobi would deal with him later. The king was more concerned with the condition of his daughter. Sakura told him she was just fine and then begged to be let out of the festivities for the evening. Things were in shambles anyway, so she got her wish. There would be no announcement of a fiancé, no terrible decision. She found that to be a greater relief than having finally exposed Orochimaru as a traitor.

Back in her room, she found she was too keyed up to sleep. It didn't help that her neck hurt more than she could imagine. It was pretty badly bruised, after all, and she cursed that man anew. He would get his, and at least she had gotten him back a little bit and saved that stranger at the same time.

Ah, it had been so romantic when he saved her. He had moved with such grace, just like a shinobi should, and those eyes of his. . . Why couldn't someone like him have been at the ball? Where was he now? Had he done whatever it was he had come to do?

The answer came, as he crashed into a bloody heap just outside of her window. He was having bad luck with balconies today, it seemed. Sakura rushed outside and dragged him in, onto her bed. She only knew a few rudimentary healing jutsus but as she began the seals, his hand came up, calluses ripped and bleeding, and stopped her with a shake of his head.

"No." He gasped. "I'm fine." It was a blatant lie. He was a proud one.

"Did you do what you came to do?" She saw the wounds all over, the probably broken bones, and before her very eyes his skin seemed to be sealing. It was unnatural, it was bizarre, but she somehow understood that he would not only survive the night but probably be well enough to leave in another few hours.


She reached out for his mask, wishing to see the man beneath it, but he stopped her again. They sat there, him panting and groaning with one hand on her wrist, and a strange sense of peace enveloped them both. Sakura wished she could do more for him, but it seemed that her presence was all he required. It was a horrid thought, really, that she was falling in love with this unknown assassin. That's what it was. She hadn't expected it to be like this.

"What time is it?" He finally asked. He was struggling up from the bed, and she tried to protest. The masked man was still bleeding from many different places, and there was no way he would make it to wherever he came from without collapsing or dying if he left before whatever healing power he had finished. Things were beginning to open up and bleed more vigorously, and for some reason he smelled very strongly of sake.

"It's 11:50, approximately. Maybe later."

"I have to go."

There was a pounding at her door. "Sakura! Sakura! Are you ok?" It was Hinata.

"I'm fine!" She yelled, and followed the man out onto the balcony. "Give me a name, please, give me something."

"Oh please come let me in! I just want to make sure you're safe!" Hinata was really aggravated; she never raised her voice like this. It had been a trying night for everyone.

Sakura looked back at the door, and then up to the stranger who faced away from her, poised to jump back into the night and out of her life. "Please, just give me something."

His muscles bunched, as if he were going to ignore her plea and leave, but then he ripped the mask off his face and tossed it at her without looking back before disappearing with a powerful leap. Sakura grabbed it, stowed it under the bed with a determined thrust of her arm, and the ripped open the doors to her room. Hinata tumbled out and embraced her sister with a relieved gasp.

"I was so worried. There's a murderer on the loose. Someone k-killed Itachi!"

Sakura vowed, right then, that she was going to find this masked man and marry him.

". . . he looks like ground meat."

"Well, what do you expect, Jiraiya, you knew what Itachi was like. He wasn't just going to hand over his life to his little brother."

"Bah, you're getting soft in your old age." There was a muffled thump and a groan. "Bitch! That hurts like hell!"

Tsunade leaned over a near dead Sasuke and clicked her tongue. "He lost the mask, too, that careless kid. Oh well. I might as well fix him up while I'm here. . ."

It was with a start that Sasuke woke up, in his own bed near the house ovens. He had a splitting headache, and thought for sure he might have gone crazy because that dream had been so vivid. There was this feeling, like something was still sucking the life out of him. He wandered over to the bathroom, the one his mother had had put in the basement levels for him once he insisted on living there. Blearily, he looked at his reflection. The wasted grimace, the swollen lips, and the sharingan eyes. . .

That was definitely worth another look. It took an act of will to turn them off, to ease his eyes back to their normal ebony. The feeling of his strength leaving him abruptly ended with the absence of those special red eyes. But it was just the work of a moment of concentration to turn them back on and send his world exploding in pain with heightened sensory perceptions. Considering how he felt, it was much better to have them off right now.

Sasuke wandered up to breakfast once he had dressed. Everyone at the table stopped eating to look at him in shock as he picked up a piece of sausage and bit down into it without bothering with a fork or plate. It was that kind of day.

"S-Sasuke?" His mother looked like she was going to cry.

"Finally figured out you're not too good to eat with us, eh?" Naruto winked. Happy that Sasuke had finally yanked that stick out of his ass.

Kiba, not a morning person, just snorted and stuffed more food in his mouth.

"So," Naruto said, through a mouthful of cereal to Sasuke's mother. "When's the princess coming to see us? I hear she's going house to house with all the ninja families."

"Last here, I imagine. Everyone knew there was no love lost between Princess Sakura and the captain of the palace guards." Sasuke heard the tears choked back in his mother's voice as she kept glancing over at her surly, but present, son. He wasn't sure entirely if she were mourning her forever prodigal son or rejoicing over the return of her living one.

Kiba snorted. "I can't believe we have to sit around and wait to try on some stupid mask. The girl has gone crazy. Why do the cute ones always have to be nuts?" He took a sausage link and dropped it under the table. No doubt that dog of his was sitting there, Sasuke thought.

Wait a second. . .

Sakura. . .

"Pink hair? Green eyes? Weepy?" Sasuke spoke sharply, and Naruto looked at him like he had gone crazy. It was possible. He was at the table with them, after all.

"I dunno about the last one, but yeah."

Kiba smiled, his sharp teeth gleaming. "Maybe our Sasuke has his eyes set on becoming a prince, eh? Some prince charming you'd make. It took you a decade to even sit with us like a civil—"


His head drooped. "Sorry, mom."

They passed the rest of the meal in silence. Sasuke took his leave as soon as he was full and went out to where the as yet unfinished chicken coop awaited him.

That girl, Sakura, was a princess. She had his mask, and she was looking for him. It was possible it was to find him out and then kill him for murdering the captain of the guard, but he thought that unlikely given what he heard at the breakfast table. He had a decision to make. She was looking for a man with sharingan eyes, and there was now only one person in all of Konoha who had that bloodline trait. If he didn't turn it on, then she wouldn't find him.

More important than the Sakura issue. . . last night hadn't been a dream and Itachi was dead at his hands.

It was like being free, for the first time in his life.

Let the girl come, Sasuke decided. He was ready for her—felt like he had spent his life being ready for her. Sasuke had always believed in destiny, knew that his was to kill his brother, but the fact that Sakura seemed to be included in it too filled him with a rare joy. It helped the aching emptiness in his heart now that his life purpose seemed to be fulfilled, that there was love rather than death at the end of his long road of vengeance.

It seemed hopeless. She had been searching for days, going to every house, talking to every person with a trace of shinobi talent or training. Now all that was left was the Uzumaki household, formerly the Uchiha household. It was a small estate, but then the former Duke had only accepted a title and nothing else. His duty was to his king, not to his lands, he had said. He had been a good man. Then he had died, and his son had taken both title and position in the palace, but left the lands to his mother.

Where had the title passed now? She knew that the woman had remarried, but Sakura knew her husband didn't hold the ducal title. It turned out there was a little brother, the last Uchiha, who now had the title and the estate. He hadn't come to the palace yet to be invested as the new Duke. She had hoped she wouldn't have to meet another Uchiha until that moment. Sadly, her search continued and there was no way to avoid it.

Sakura clutched the bloodstained mask in her hand tightly. She would find him, and then she would marry him. He was the person best suited to protect her and her family, this man who had dispatched both of her most fearsome enemies in the same night and saved her life in the process. More importantly, she had fallen in love with him sight unseen. It was scary and thrilling to feel the rapid beating of her heart when she thought about him. Hinata had expressed some concern over the sincerity of her feelings, but Sakura was determined and when Sakura got determined things happened.

It was either this or marry a stranger that wasn't of her choosing. When she had pointed that out Hinata had fallen silent. Then Sakura had asked Hinata who she had chosen, and her sister had stalled with a pause so long that Sakura knew that poor Hinata was going to take a while with that one.

The carriage stopped and Sakura stepped out, combing down her short hair with her fingers to make herself presentable. Out front, the lady of the house met her and showed her in for some tea and rest from her long journey over the kingdom. After a little small talk, Sakura got straight to the point.

"May I see your sons? I would rather finish this and get back to the palace quickly." She was very discouraged, tired, on edge. Being with this newly mourning mother was not helping her mood, or the vague guilt in her heart.

"Of course, your highness." She made a motion and Naruto and Kiba tumbled in. "I don't see Sasuke. I'll just go find him, your highness."

Sakura looked at Naruto and Kiba and they looked at her with the same impudent searching glare. They didn't look like Uchihas, they must be the step-sons the Duchess had been speaking of. Sakura's face softened into a real smile when she realized they were no relation of Itachi. Naruto, at least, smiled back.

"If you'd humor me. . ." she handed them the mask, and they looked at it. Neither one got even the faintest spark of recognition, and when they tried it on, there was none of the feeling she got when she had been with the stranger. Another failure.

They were making conversation about Hinata soon after that, but once it sprouted into a full blown shouting match and fist fight, Sakura realized with some horror that these were the two men who Hinata had been blushing over at the ball. One of them was going to be her brother in law. A little voice inside of her hoped Hinata would choose Naruto, he seemed like a sweet guy, and the fact that he thought she was pretty too had helped that opinion along a bit.

"I'm sorry I took so long, your highness. This is my son, Sasuke. . ."

Whatever the Duchess said after that was lost to Sakura. So this was the last Uchiha. The dark hair and dark eyes were a sure giveaway. She hadn't thought he would be so beauti. . . er, handsome. Sakura was half aware that her mouth had dropped open. Uchiha or no, she hoped very hard in her heart that this was the man she had searched the kingdom from the top to bottom for. The sudden flip of opinion seemed hypocritical, but not even her inner voice could conjure up a proper scolding.

"Hmph." He said, instead of introducing himself, and grabbed the mask from Sakura's limp fingers.

In the background, Sasuke's mother was scolding him and Naruto was making some sort of joke to Kiba. All Sakura could see was Sasuke. He put the mask up to his face, and in the space of a blink those swirling red eyes were eating her alive. The mask dropped to the ground with a clatter and the room went silent.

"Shoo, out, they need privacy. Oh my, I don't know when Sasuke found the time to meet her, but they must have to be so. . . both of you out!"

Naruto craned his neck around to see Sasuke opening his mouth over Sakura's as they stood in the middle of the room, joined at the lips. This was great! If he could get a picture of this he'd have blackmail material for life on his grumpy step sibling!

The door shut and his view was cut off, while Sasuke's mother blushed furiously and glared at the two young men. "We'll give them ten minutes."

Kiba snorted. "I say we leave now, and just go tell the people at the palace that they have a new head of security." He smirked. "They looked like they'd need more than ten minutes."